Land Girls and Lumber Jills

In a year commemorating not only the centenary of women’s enfranchisement, but also the end of the First World War, the achievements of women in wartime deserves recognition, not least the efforts of the women who worked on the land through two world wars. A decade ago, in January 2008, it was announced that former members of the Women’s Land Army (WLA) and Women’s Timber Corps (WTC) were to be awarded a medal commemorating their vital contribution to the war effort during two World Wars. The badge, bearing the Royal Crown and showing a gold wheat sheaf on a white background was surrounded by a circlet of pine branches and pine cones to indicate the work of both the ‘Land Girls’ and the ‘Lumber Jills’. It was long overdue (sixty years overdue, sniffed the Daily Mail at the time), but it was, at last, official recognition for a cohort of women who had thrown their backs, and their hearts into providing the nation with food and timber during World War II.

Land Girl, Pauline Bell, who used to be a Civil Service clerk, working with plough horses on a farm during World War II

By early 1917, and with an estimated three weeks’ food supply left in the country, it was clear that drastic action was needed. Ronald Protheroe, President of the Board of Agriculture engaged the services of (Dame) Meriel Talbot, a leading light of the Women’s Farm and Garden Association, who became director of the first Women’s Land Army. She set about immediately implementing an intensive recruitment drive.

Women's Land Army WW1. Somewhat idealised portrait of a Land Girl in hat and smock. Pitchfork over her shoulder. Captioned, 'National Service' 'Sunshine on the Land'     Date: Circe 1917

Through both World Wars, the WLA struggled with an image problem.  Other, comparatively more glamorous women’s services such as the Women’s Air Force (WAAF) or the Women’s Royal Naval Services (WRNS) were formed around the same time and offered not only more conducive working hours but an elegant uniform in comparison to the smock and breeches ensemble worn by land girls. Munitions workers of course, earned far more. Farm work meant long hours, physical toil and low wages. Furthermore, many land girls who arrived at farms full of optimism and enthusiasm, found their male employers sceptical about their abilities. The recruiters appealed to the patriotism of the nation’s women, and peppered that with promises of a healthy, wholesome rural idyll. Prime Minister David Lloyd George, quoted in The Landswoman (a magazine launched in January 1918 expressly for WLA members), added his voice to the appeal in June 1918; “…the harvest is in danger…once again therefore…I appeal to women to come forward and help. They have never failed this country yet.” A Times article, reporting on a the 130 land girls who visited London and then Buckingham Palace for a recruitment campaign in March of that year commented enthusiastically on, “the health and happiness, clear skins and bright eyes” of the land girls.

A member of the Women's Auxilary Agricultural Service (Land Army) in hat, smock, shirt, tie and sturdy brogues. Her armband bears the emblem of the crown.     Date: circa 1916

The Women’s Land Army of the Great War, which had recruited approximately 23,000 women to its ranks, was disbanded in 1919 but within twenty years, it would be needed again. Having proved to many doubters in 1918 that women were more than capable of physically taxing work in the fields and forests, the next generation of land girls found themselves facing similar prejudices.

The new WLA reformed in 1939, with Lady Gertrude Denman at its head. Its headquarters were based at her own magnificent country home, Balcombe Park in Sussex where the bedrooms were turned into offices and the stables and squash court transformed into warehouses for storing the thousands of uniforms to be issued to recruits. From here, the Land Girl, a monthly magazine under the editorship of birth control pioneer, Margaret Pyke was produced reaching a circulation of 21,000. Lady Denman was a tireless representative of the WLA. She toured the country, making personal visits to county and regional officers as well as speaking to land girls themselves and was firmly committed to raising the profile and improving conditions for the women under her wing. In 1941, she approached Buckingham Palace to invite Queen Elizabeth to become the WLA patron. The Queen accepted and from then on, took an active interest in the Land Army, attending reviews, subscribing to the WLA Benevolent Fund and throwing an anniversary party for over 300 land girls at Buckingham Palace in 1943.

The WLA’s recruiting slogan was, ‘For a healthy, happy job, join the Women’s Land Army’. Its most famous poster depicted a glowing young woman, pitchfork poised, in WLA uniform surveying with a satisfied gaze, a large, sun-kissed field stretching out to the horizon. For some, it was an alluring prospect. Indeed, in the months leading up to WWII, when the WLA was already beginning to recruit as the storm clouds of war gathered, the fortnight of training given to Land Girls was regularly described as akin to a holiday. The Hastings Observer, writing in July 1939, suggested, “Land Army work is something which girls and women of all types and ages will find interesting and health-giving…The period of training is only a fortnight, and those who would find a country holiday attractive and are prepared to pay £1 for their board should find the training period as enjoyable as it is instructive.”

World War Two, 1940s, Women's Land Army, tractor, horse, harness, girl on dungarees, fields, village. .     Date:

The bucolic idyll promoted by posters and newspaper editorial rarely lived up to expectations. For most girls, some of whom came from cities and were entirely unused to country life let alone physical work, the reality involved endless weeks of strenuous, back-breaking effort. Jobs could be by turns filthy, dangerous, repetitive, or all three. Nevertheless, by 1943, over 80,000 women had gamely turned their hand to baling, ploughing, weeding, ditching, chaffing, milking, mucking out, plucking chickens, picking potatoes, cutting sugar beet and even rat-catching! One former land girl, Dorothy Wheeler, sent to work on farms in North Wales, recalled the field work she was faced with on her very first day – sorting through clamps of potatoes, separating them into one heap for pigs and another for humans. “Oh, it was horrible sometimes, like custard.” Another girl, Hilda Billings from Salford left her job in the Rennies indigestion tablet factory to join the land army and described her typical working week in the Shropshire countryside as, “getting up to bring in the cows at six, washing their udders with icy-cold water, drying and then milking them. Then breakfast and lots of other work until six. Haymaking time, you’d go back after tea and work till it went really dark.” For a forty-eight hour working week, payment was the underwhelming sum of £1 2 s. 6d., and was considerably lower for girls under the age of eighteen. Promotion to a supervisor was, at least, a chance to improve earning power.

Land Girls working as milkmaids milking cows on a farm in Tooting during World War II. Miss Ivy Baldwin (on the left) was a mulitple shop worker).

Members of the Women’s Timber Corps found themselves in an even more masculine world than their land girl counterparts. With timber imports badly hit by submarine attacks on Allied ships, and the need for a specialisation in this kind of work, the WTA was set up as an offshoot of the WLA in March 1942.  Recruits, who had four weeks of training, earned more than land girls with the result that, at one point, women were volunteering at a rate of 250 per week. The Lumber Jills carried out an enormous range of forestry jobs from working in sawmills to labouring in forests, felling trees and lopping branches. They would also take on the heavy work of haulage and transportation. A key aspect of their job was acquisition work, where WTC members would walk for miles daily, assessing, measuring and selecting trees suitable for war production, whether as telegraph poles, as pit props or for wood that would be laid in front of tanks on beach landings.

Most girls were billeted either at farms, or often in hostels where facilities could be spartan, though the camaraderie of communal living was often preferred to the isolation of living alone with a family in a remote area. Nevertheless, home comforts were thin on the ground. Helen Collett, who worked in Buckinghamshire remembered coming back from the fields after a day knee deep in mud and having to share just four inches of bath water with six other girls. The familiar uniform issued to the Land Girls and Lumber Jills consisted of brown, corduroy breeches (an extra pair was allocated to WTC girls), fawn knee-length woollen socks, fawn Aertex shirt, green pullover and green tie. To top it off was a brown felt ‘slouch’ hat, worn at a jaunty angle by the more sassy girls to avoid looking overly quaint. The green beret that set the Lumberjills apart was infinitely more rakish. For many, this uniform was kept for ‘best’ and daily work was carried out in baggy, brown dungarees with a matching jacket.

Women War Work WW1 Land Army. Members of the Women's Land Army, Forestry Division or Timber Corps, also known as 'Lumber Jills'     Date: 1918

Despite the disadvantages of an unflattering uniform, the land girls still had their fair share of admirers. Those close to RAF or Army bases would cycle (sometimes bicycles were provided) to dances where they jitterbugged with GIs or British airmen. Some went on to marry the servicemen they met while in the WLA. They caught the eye of others too. Many prisoners of war were put to work in the fields and one land girl recalled that while the German POWs were surly yet hard workers, the Italians, unable to subdue their natural flirtatiousness, would spend more time whistling at girls or calling, ‘Bella, bella’.

Most of the Land Girls and Lumber Jills are now in their eighties but still remember their time with the Women’s Land Army fondly – “good years with good friends” as one put it. Peg Francis from Grimsby, speaking in 2010 explained the firm friendships forged out of a shared experience. “I was very young and had never been away from home. I was frightened of cows, but had no fear of hard work. The people I met during those four and half years were full of kindness and generosity and I’m still in touch with some of the girls now.”

Incredibly, it was not until 2000, that the Women’s Land Army was finally invited to march past the Cenotaph on Remembrance Sunday – in honour of the work they did for their country. Since then, a memorial sculpture to the WTC was unveiled in the Queen Elizabeth Forest Park near Aberfoyle in Stirling in October 2007, a fitting tribute to the so-called ‘Forgotten Corps’. In 2014, finally, after a fundraising campaign, a memorial to the Women’s Land Army was unveiled by the Countess of Wessex at the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire. The figures, by sculptor Denise Dutton, were inspired by those in one of the original WLA recruitment posters. As the original Land Girls become fewer in number, the focus on women’s contribution to the past becomes magnified, and it seems that finally, their voices are beginning to be heard.

John Hassall – 150th anniversary of the Poster King

As a historical picture library, anniversaries frequently punctuate our working year, but there’s a significant anniversary this week which will probably pass most people by.  One hundred and fifty years ago, on the 21st May 1868, one of the most popular artists of the early 20th century was born – John Hassall. I’ve been a fan of Hassall’s work for some time and, having written a number of books and articles about illustrators, hope to make John Hassall’s life and career the subject of my next book. But mention of this to most people usually illicits the response, “Who? I don’t know him.” The penny drops when I ask if they know Hassall’s most famous work, his ‘Skegness is SO bracing poster’ featuring a carefree, jolly fisherman prancing along a beach and designed for the London North East Railway in 1908, but by and large, John Hassall’s name has disappeared from public consciousness.

skegness, liversalts, colmans

A century ago, every man and woman knew who John Hassall was; he was ‘The Poster King’ and, although he was an artist talented in many disciplines, it was the advertising hoarding that was his kingdom and which was to make him a household name. An article in Answers magazine from 1912, entitled, ‘The Poor Man’s Picture Gallery’ gives some indication of the impact of the picture poster in the early years of the twentieth century.

“The development of British poster art in the last few years has been altogether astounding. Not many years ago, the mention of the word ‘art’ in connection with the hoarding would have raised a smile. Poster advertising has gone on in leaps and bounds until today it has been fitly termed, “the poor man’s picture gallery”

Later in the article: “Probably no poster artist has enjoyed so great a success as John Hassall…The mistake that too many poster artists make is crowding too many figures into one picture. This is never a fault of Hassall. His faces are good-humoured and a feature of his work.”

Born in Walmer, Kent, John Hassall was educated in Worthing and then, as a young man, after failing to gain entry to Sandhurst tried his hand at farming, moving to the remote wilderness of Manitoba in Canada with his brother Owen. During that time, he began to draw, and on successfully entering several local art competitions, realised he had a talent. Returning to England in 1890, he befriended fellow artists Dudley Hardy and Cecil Aldin, both of whom would become lifelong friends, and travelled to Paris and Antwerp to study art, there becoming influenced by great poster masters such as Cheret and Mucha. His career took off in 1895 when he was engaged by the poster printing firm David Allen & Sons, a relationship that would last for most of Hassall’s lifetime. Aside from the ubiquitous Skegness poster, Hassall produced designs for well-known brands such as Bovril and Colman’s Mustard, countless posters for theatrical productions (600 alone between 1896 and 1899) and, intriguingly, a number of posters and postcards for the anti-suffrage campaign, including the famous, ‘A Suffragette’s Home’ in which a working class man returns home at the end of the day to find his home in disarray due to the activities of his politically enlightened (but apparently neglectful) wife. Developing an eye-catching and engaging style, Hassall’s designs used bold outlines, flat colour and made spatially confident decisions demonstrating not only the influence of Japanese art on British design at the end of the nineteenth century, but how this technique could translate into bold and effective advertisements.

suffragette, santa, snowballing

frys, shaws, vacuum cleanersleeping beauty

Aside from posters, Hassall, a prolific artist and lifelong workaholic, worked across a variety of media and disciplines, showing himself to be a designer of great versatility. He was a painter in oils in the traditional manner who exhibited at the Royal Academy; a book illustrator, and a humorous ‘black & white’ artist for magazines, particularly for The Sketch, which is held here as part of the Illustrated London News archive. In 1905, he founded the New Art School which could count H. M. Bateman and Annie Fish among its illustrious alumni. When war broke out, the school continued as a highly popular correspondence course. He was a designer of toys, figurines, pottery and nursery décor and ever the innovator, he was keen to push boundaries, working with the Animated Hoardings Company before the Great War to create mechanised advertising posters.

art course, Hassall himself

THE MARCH OF THE UNEMPLOYED Date: 1912

Journalists flocked to his studio, built in the garden of his home at 88, Kensington Park Road, to interview the poster king who was a generous and talkative host, full of stories and anecdotes about his life and working methods. Last year, I visited the University of Essex where the archives of John Hassall are held including his diaries, log books and photograph albums. With only a brief day to skim through the wealth of material, it nevertheless soon became clear that John Hassall was a man of great charm and energy with a wide circle of friends, acquaintances and admirers. A long-serving member of both the Savage and Sketch Club, he was at the very centre of London’s artistic community and his home was always busy and open.

Hassall Archive

He was someone who was generous with his time and took delight in his family. Hassall was married twice with three children by his first wife (Isabel Dingwall who died in childbirth in 1900), and two by his second, Maud Webb. The daughter of his second wife was the renowned book illustrator and engraver, Joan Hassall; his son by that marriage was Christopher Hassall, actor, poet, lyricist and dramatist. The family would spend each summer at a holiday cottage at Walton-on-the-Naze on the Essex coast where he took a keen interest in finding and accumulating a world-class collection of prehistoric flints.

When war broke out in 1914, Hassall was approaching 50 and too old to join up. Instead he served as a special constable and increasingly gave his time for free producing countless sketches and drawings at the request of stage stars such as George Robey to promote or sell at charity auctions, matinees and shows. His log books from this period are something to behold – full to the brim with commissions, at least half of which he carried out without charge. Although Hassall’s style would begin to fall out of fashion, in 1939 he was granted a civil-list pension for services to poster art and he continued to work until shortly before his death in 1948.

soldier, VAD, hippodrome

Here at the library, John Hassall’s work crops up frequently, either in illustrated magazines, in children’s books and, more recently, in the numerous theatrical posters making up the Michael Diamond Collection. This week, to mark the 150th anniversary of Hassall’s birth, it seems like a timely moment to share and celebrate the work of an artist whose talent gave so much pleasure to so many. It’s time for the Poster King to return to his throne.

A group of children in fancy dress standing in a line Date: circa 1900

 

 

Motivational Posters from the Maurice Collins Collection

As we look to the start of a new year, thoughts inevitably turn to New Year’s resolutions and self-improvement.  With the help of the fabulous Maurice Collins collection that we represent here at Mary Evans, we turn the clock back 90 years and take a look at self-improvement 1928-style, through the medium of workplace motivational posters. Never mind mindfulness, forget Feng shui – these posters channel bold, colourful imagery with pithy positivity for the workplace and beyond.

Incentivisation Poster - Gossip
Incentivisation Poster - Look Pleasant
Incentivisation Poster - Who Thought

Parker-Holladay, a now defunct print company, was one producer of these motivational posters, which it made on a subscription basis for business owners to display and disseminate to their employees. Bill Jones, a fictional character created by Parker-Holladay, encouraged punctuality, good self-care, courtesy and teamwork, amongst a raft of other virtues, helping to instill best practice and positive mental attitude in the workplace.

Incentivisation Poster - Late Again
Incentivisation Poster - Health is priceless

Popular in their day, these striking posters fell from favour following the Wall Street Crash and the ensuing Great Depression of 1929, with economic events dealing a heavy blow to the self-made man and his entrepreneurial spirit. Though thankfully the economy is not suffering  today as it did back in 1929, even nearly a century later these images still convey the power of positivity and the beneficial effect this can have in the work place and on an individual’s outlook.

Incentivisation Poster - Criticism
Incentivisation Poster - Tomorrow
Incentivisation Poster - Who Thought
Incentivisation Poster - Worry

Here on The Inquisitive Archivist, these posters march again, on into 2018, with messages that are still pertinent to the workplace today.  Which of Bill Jones’s maxims will you take into 2018? Wishing all our readers a very happy and productive new year!


Incentivisation Poster - Goodbye Old Year